Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Round-Up

I haven't had much to say this week. I had two appointments for acupuncture this week, and my condition has improved dramatically. I also had a boost from my friend Parthy, who sent me a care package containing some natural anti-inflammatory supplements. Who knew that turmeric was good for treating inflammation? I also learned that fish oil is an effective anti-inflammatory agent. So, if you've had an injury accompanied by inflammation, the best thing to do is get down to Chapati for a fish curry. It's been six weeks since I woke up in intense pain from my herniated disk. At the emergency room on January 20, the doctor told me that 90% of cases clear up on their own in four to six weeks. Since then I've had two weeks of steroids (prednisone), two weeks of physical therapy (traction), and two weeks of acupuncture and herbal remedies. My question is: If I had simply done nothing, would I be exactly where I am now? Or: Have acupuncture and herbal remedies been the most effective treatments, or do they only seem effective because I resorted to them at a point when my condition had begun to improve on its own (or because of previous treatments)? According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and reported in the mainstream media earlier this month, the overall cost of treating back pain rose 65% from 1997 to 2005, but (according to "self-reported measures") patients weren't feeling any better than they did with less-expensive treatments a decade ago. So, was all of this medical intervention worth it? I don't know. Six weeks ago, I felt worse than I'd ever felt in my life. I did what people told me to do in order to feel better.

Meanwhile, it's Friday, which means The Federalist. I read 5 (Jay) and 6 (Hamilton) this week. Both continue to examine the foreign policy benefits of a strong union. In 6, Hamilton drags in examples from history, from Athens to Holland, to illustrate the belligerence of small republics. The most interesting aspect of Hamilton's essays so far is his pessimistic (or realistic) view of human nature. "Is it not time," he asks, "to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age, and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct, that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?"

That was Hamilton writing in November 1787. A decade earlier, at Valley Forge, Hamilton drafted for General Washington a report to the Continental Congress arguing realistically that the original motivation for enlistments in the army, patriotic devotion to "the Cause," was no longer enough. The soldiers needed to be paid. Hamilton was a realist. He knew that beneath every high-sounding ideology was simple self-interest. In the decade after 1787, he would have nothing but contempt for idealists like Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe and their rose-colored view of the French Revolution. It was nothing but another "deceitful dream," and Hamilton knew that its true complexion was blood-colored, not rose-colored.

Thought experiment: Would Hamilton have warned President Bush and his neocon advisers that their vision of American troops being welcomed as liberators in Iraq was a "deceitful dream," more ideological wishful thinking than realistic expectation? I'm not so sure. During the Quasi-War with France (1797-1800), Hamilton was put in charge of the army. While waiting restlessly, and ultimately in vain, to be called into action, Hamilton entertained extravagant fantasies of using his little American army to liberate the rest of the Western Hemisphere from Spanish and French colonial rule. He was even in contact with his own Ahmed Chalabi figure, a Venezuelan exile named Francisco de Miranda who encouraged his imperialistic fantasies. Realism trumped dreamy ideology, but military force nearly trumped realism.

Hamilton realized that if you put a bunch of little boys in a room and gave them all sticks, they would start hitting each other. They might temporarily gang up on each other, but chances were that before long they would all be beaten bloody. Hamilton's solution in The Federalist was to form the boys into a team. Members of the same team wouldn't beat each other up. But if their sticks weren't taken away, the boys would find someone else to hit.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Minnesota's Religious Landscape

According to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Minnesota is one of the most religiously "mainline" states in the country. According to the survey, 32% of Minnesotans belong to traditional mainline Protestant churches, as opposed to 18% nationally. The percentage of Catholics is also higher than the national average in Minnesota (28% in Minnesota, 24% nationally). But the percentage of evangelicals is slightly smaller: 21% in Minnesota, 26% nationally.

Most mainline Protestants are, unsurprisingly, white (91%). Also not surprisingly, 50% of all evangelicals live in the South. According to the survey, Jews and Hindus are likely to be wealthier and better educated than members of other religions.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Sign of Recovery

Here's a sign that I'm feeling a little better, at the end of five weeks of often debilitating pain. For the first couple of weeks, I was barely able to pour my cereal in the morning. This evening, I made pork tenderloin with morels and juniper berries, served on a bed of polenta. The wine in the photograph is a superb red Coteaux de Languedoc, Les Hauts de la Brune 2005, available at the Muni for $12. The pork tenderloin was adapted from the Stufatino di Maiale alla Boscaiola from Marcella Hazan's More Classic Italian Cooking (1982); I substituted fast-cooking pork tenderloin for the cubes of pork shoulder that Marcella recommends. Marcella Hazan is responsible for a huge number of fine meals that Clara and I have cooked since we were married in 1989, and More Classic Italian Cooking has, along with The Joy of Cooking, been the most indispensable cookbook in our large cookbook collection. The book itself was a gift to Clara from her brother and sister-in-law when she graduated from college in 1983. During our first year of marriage, while Clara worked late at the library on her dissertation, I taught myself to cook by meticulously following the recipes Marcella's cookbooks. Dishes from More Classic Italian Cooking—sfinciuni with broccoli and ricotta stuffing (Sfinciuni con la Conza di Broccoli e Ricotta), pork chops with sage and tomatoes, Modena style (Costolette di Maiale alla Modenese), roast chicken stuffed with lemon (Pollo al Limone), and chicken fricassee with red cabbage (Pollo in Umido col Cavolo Nero)—have been staples in our kitchen for almost twenty years. And I have to confess, with apologies to those like my sister who think eating veal is barbaric, that one of my favorite dishes of all time is Marcella's veal chops with anchovy sauce (Nodini di Vitello con Sughetto di Acciunhe). In our copy of the cookbook, there's a note indicating that we cooked those veal chops to celebrate two months of marriage on August 29, 1989.

A Hyperlinked Saturday

Yesterday was one of those late winter days that seems to hold the promise of spring. The sky was clear and the temperature soared into the mid-20s. In the morning, we walked down to the Northfield Arts Guild to check out the all school art exhibit (Peter has an artwork on display) and listen to the 8th grade brass octet (with Peter on trombone) play in the downstairs dance studio. All of this was part of the NAG's "Imagination Celebration." It was the kind of Saturday that, in England, would have sent Clara and me out on an hour-and-a-half walk across fields of wheat, rape, and sheep to one of our favorite country pubs, the Tipperary Inn. Instead, in the afternoon, we walked circuitously around town for an hour until we arrived at the Contented Cow. After a quick pint of Belhaven, we walked to Just Food Coop to buy ingredients for salade niçoise; we also bought a baguette, some good French camembert, and smoked oysters. At the Muni, we picked up a chilled bottle of white Coteaux de Languedoc. After the meal, we finished off the evening with a viewing of The Awful Truth (1937), starring Carey Grant and Irene Dunne, followed by one of the odder episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Megan Fox in Transformers. Just one of the reasons the movie didn't suck.

Every now and then, there will be something I'm expecting to hate that I end up loving. It happened big time with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it's happened on a much smaller scale with some of the music Will and Peter listen to. Beck, for instance. It happened again last night with the movie Transformers. I certainly wasn't expecting to like a movie "based on Hasbro's Transformers"—toy robots that transform into cars, and vice versa. How stupid does that sound? And it was directed by Michael Bay, the director of the widely-reviled Pearl Harbor and the laughably awful The Island. But Transformers turned out to be a highly entertaining couple of hours—just the right combination of extreme silliness, special effects, action, and Megan Fox. The movie itself was a kind of transformer: one minute a war movie (starring Josh Duhamel and Jon Voight), the next minute a teen romantic comedy (starring Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox), the next minute a live-action Saturday morning cartoon (starring the Transformers with their silly cartoon dialogue). John Turturro added a little extra dash of strangeness as a kind of Coen Brothers version of Agent Mulder. Somehow, it all added up to something that kept us all entertained for 144 minutes.

In the photograph above, Mikaela (Megan Fox) is looking under the hood of Sam's (Shia LeBeouf's) Camaro/Transformer. Cars, of course, have long been metonymous with women and sex. Men seem attracted to the shapely and mechanical. Listen to Springsteen in his prime (Born to Run, Darkness at the Edge of Town). In songs like "Racing in the Street," you get that wild whiff of hormones and gasoline. Early in Transformers, Sam says that Mikaela is more than she appears to be. At the end of the movie, Optimus Prime says the same thing about humans in general, as Sam and Mikaela make out on the hood of the Camaro/Transformer. The same is, of course, true about the Transformers: they are not just plain cars, they more than they appear to be. At the end, Sam is neatly sandwiched between male fantasies: the perfect woman and the perfect machine, which are, in the male imagination, curiously alike. Metaphor and metonymy are language's version of Transformers: words are always more than they appear to be.

The military provides another time-tested metaphor for sex, with its phallic missiles penetrating enemy territory, etc. One of my favorite quotations from our Founding Fathers is from Elbridge Gerry (who gave his name to gerrymandering), who said that a standing army was like an erection: "an excellent assurance of domestic tranquillity, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure."

Rob's rating: 4/5 stars.
Will's two cents: " it has two really hot girls in it."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Federalist Friday: Federalist 3 & 4

John Jay as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

John Jay (1745-1829) is one of those second-string Founders, like James Wilson or John Dickinson, who was undeniably important without being better known. He was conservative, dull, and rheumatic. His entry in the Oxford Companion to United States History is about as long as the five-inch column devoted to Jesse James on the facing page, and dwarfed by the entries on Jazz and Jefferson that follow. He was known chiefly for his handful of contributions to the Federalist, for being the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and for negotiating one of America's most unpopular treaties (the 1795 "Jay's Treaty" with Great Britain). Because of his experience as a diplomat (he, Franklin, and Adams negotiated the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War), Hamilton recruited him to write about the advantages the new Constitution would give the United States in foreign affairs. Jay argues that a strong Union is less likely to become entangled in wars than a loose confederation of states, and that a Union will be better able to defend itself when it does have to go to war. As smaller, independent republics, the states would constantly be fighting among themselves, and would likely fall prey to empire-size neighbors Britain, France, and Spain (all occupying parts of the Americas). What I found most interesting about these two essays of Jay's was the conclusion of Federalist 4. Having laid out the dangers of disunion, Jay warns: "how soon would dear bought experience proclaim, that when a people or family so divide, in never fails to be against themselves." This seems to be an echo of the passage in the New Testament, Matthew 12:25, that is more famously echoed by Abraham Lincoln in 1858, when he accepted Illinois' Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate: "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

More Birthdays

Today is the 276th birthday of America's first President, George Washington, born on February 22, 1732. Last year, on President's Day, Clara and I drove down the M40 toward Banbury, then headed east into rural Northamptonshire to visit Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of the Washington family. My original blog post about that visit is here. George Washington is still a hero of mine, untarnished by cynical college-educated liberalism. I have an old schoolroom reproduction of the Gilbert Stuart portrait in my study, looking over my shoulder as I write, and a few years ago I drove up to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to see the Lansdowne Portrait, which was temporarily on loan from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

In February 1970 (a month before George W. Bush joined the Air National Guard, three months before the invasion of Cambodia and the killings at Kent State), I was a kindergartner learning to use blunt-ended scissors by cutting out red Valentine's Day hearts and black construction paper silhouettes of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. We learned that George Washington refused to lie about chopping down his father’s cherry tree. We learned that Honest Abe split wood, freed the slaves, and walked miles to borrow books. That year, 1970, was the last year before the 1968 law went into effect that set aside the third Monday of February as the official observance of Washington’s Birthday. In 1970, we had a day off from school on Thursday, February 12 (Lincoln’s Birthday). Washington’s Birthday fell on Sunday, February 22. In 1971, both birthdays were observed on Monday, February 15—although neither President had been born on that day.

A Kindergarten Year

With our scissors we learned the year,
following our teacher’s perfect pumpkin,
learning to cut away the scraps
from each day’s predetermined shape.

OCTOBER was a pumpkin patch,
pumpkins on the calendar counting up
the orange days to Halloween.
It took patience to follow the lines

and not to run with our blunt-headed
scissors across the room,
knowing how long we had to wait
until the last of those pumpkin-shaped days.

Then NOVEMBER came in the shape
of our own hands dressed as turkeys,
and we cut carefully around our fingers,
because each finger was something

to be thankful for, something to be counted on:
the five days of the week, the ten months
of the school year, September to June.
We learned that every month had its shape:

DECEMBER Christmas tree, JANUARY snowflake,
the heart unfolding its symmetry in the middle
of the shortest month. And after the shamrocks
of MARCH, we cut umbrellas

to shade each APRIL day from rain, and tulips
and daffodils for MAY. Our hands
steadied through the year, from the day in
day out of our scissors cutting paper,

smoothing out the creases in our hearts,
throwing away the scraps with the
heart-shaped holes, or taping them
to the window to let the sun shine through.

"Yes, it's red," she said resignedly. "Now you see why I can't be perfectly happy. Nobody could who had red hair."

Another important 2008 centennial I failed to mention in my previous post is the 100th birthday of Anne of Green Gables, originally published in 1908. I plan to celebrate by rereading the book. For a while, I've been coveting The Annotated Anne of Green Gables; maybe this is finally the year to buy it. L.M. Montgomery's classic is one of the books I read several years ago when I decided to read some of the children's books I missed out on because I was a boy and the father of boys. It's a lovely book, and one whose appeal should extend beyond a circle of precocious prepubescent girls and nostalgic grown women. Because, of course, it's really about how wonderful it is to have red hair—like Anne, the young George Washington, and me.

Note: check back later for "Federalist Friday," and a run-down of Federalist 3 & 4.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I don't like needles, so it says something about the level of pain and discomfort I've been experiencing that yesterday I had my first appointment for acupuncture. I was nervous and, as usual, my heart was beating fast. I was surprised that there was very little sensation from the insertion of the needles—except for one needle in my back, which stung. The acupuncturist was surprised by this. "Most people," she said, "don't feel the ones in their back." The only other pain was when she twitched the needles in my neck and hand to create a "strong sensation in the affected area." This caused, believe it or not, the sensation of being pricked by a pin. After the poking and twitching was over, I lay in the dark with waves of synthesizer music washing over me until I was almost relaxed. Relaxing is not my strong suit.

For the rest of the day, I was in an unusually good mood. In fact, I'm still in a good mood, despite a rather poor night's sleep. One thing that I absolutely believe about acupuncture is that it stimulates the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, one of the body's natural mood enhancers. For example, one class of antidepressants, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), increase the flow of serotonin in the brain. As it happens, laboratory studies have shown that acupuncture does, in fact, increase the body's serotonin levels. Conclusion: acupuncture is an antidepressant.

I was sore and sleepless last night, but this morning, as I said, I'm feeling quite good. I have a couple more acupuncture appointments scheduled for next week. I'm still not crazy about the needles, but the results, so far, have been positive.

Meanwhile, there was a total eclipse of the moon last night. In England, we watched a total lunar eclipse last March 3rd. In Minnesota, the moon would already have been in eclipse at moonrise, but in England we saw the entire eclipse. This remarkable photograph of that eclipse was taken in London by the Associated Press. For wonderful photographs of last night's eclipse, check out these, taken in the Canadian Maritimes (from Chris's Book-a-Rama blog).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Legendary Sandwiches

The Baguette Barge, Stratford-upon-Avon.

As fond as I am of Northfield's own Hogan Brothers, where I always have a half combo with everything (heated), I still look back fondly at my graduate student days in Providence, Rhode Island (1986-1990) as the golden age of sandwiches. My two favorite sandwiches of all time were:

1. Turkey, bacon and swiss from the Silver Truck. After pitchers of Schaeffer ("the one beer to have when you're having more than one") at the GCB (Graduate Center Bar), nothing cleansed the palate like turkey, bacon and swiss (with lettuce, tomato and mayo on a grinder roll) from the Silver Truck.

2. Hot pastrami and swiss with Shedd's sauce at the Meeting Street Café. Unlike the Silver Truck, the Meeting Street Café is still around. I've never seen nor heard of Shedd's sauce outside of Providence. It's a blend of mayonnaise, dijon mustard and horseradish. It's the perfect accompaniment for hot pastrami.

Those were the days. In England, though, I added a new sandwich to my list of favorites: brie, bacon, and cranberry sauce on a baguette. I first had brie and cranberry sauce on a baguette (without the bacon) at the Baguette Barge in Stratford-upon-Avon after a morning performance of Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2. At home, I've attempted to recreate all of these sandwiches, but they're just not the same as the originals.


William Howard Taft.

While we're waiting for the two hundredth birthdays of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln next February 12th, here are a few centennials we can celebrate in 2008:

Mother's Day. The first Mother's Day was celebrated on May 10, 1908.
The Model T. Henry Ford rolled out his first Model T on September 27, 1908.
The Cubs Win the World Series. The Chicago Cubs clinched their most recent World Series championship on October 14, 1908, defeating the Detroit Tigers, 4 games to 1. 1908 was also the year that Jack Norworth wrote the lyrics for the song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." The infield of the 1908 Cubs was anchored by the famous double play combination of Joe Tinker (SS), Johnny Evers (2B) and Frank Chance (1B): "Tinker to Evers to Chance."

We've already missed the 100th birthday of the Boy Scouts, on January 24. It was also one hundred years ago this November that William Howard Taft was elected President, marking the Republican Party's decisive repudiation of the progressive policies of former President Theodore Roosevelt. Taft was described by one Senator as "a ponderous and amiable man completely surrounded by men who know exactly what they want." What the leaders of the GOP wanted in 1908 was to abandon TR's program of environmental conservation and scrap his efforts to regulate big business.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Publication Alert

I just finished correcting the proofs for a 24-page article that, through the time-bending magic of academic publishing, is forthcoming in the Summer 2007 issue of the International Journal of the Classical Tradition, published by the Institute for the Classical Tradition at Boston University. The article is titled: "'A Mirror of the Times': The Catilinarian Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century British and American Political Thought." I know you will all be rushing out to get your own personal copy!

Catiline, in case you've forgotten, was a dissolute Roman aristocrat who, in 64 BCE, launched a conspiracy to overthrow the republican government in Rome, attempting to win the people to his side with promises of debt relief. When the conspiracy was unmasked, some the conspirators were captured and, after a debate in the Senate, executed on the orders of the consul for that year, Marcus Tullius Cicero. In the Senate debates, Cicero delivered his most famous speeches, the Catilinarian orations. O tempora! O mores! After the fact, the historian Sallust wrote a short history of the conspiracy and of the government response (which, curiously, downplays Cicero's role).

Abstract: In the eighteenth century, the Catilinarian conspiracy, as portrayed by Sallust and Cicero, provided a cautionary tale for British and American political writers, both Whig and Tory, about the destabilizing nature of debt and the dangers of radical democracy. In the wake of the South Sea Bubble crisis of the early 1720s, writers like Thomas Gordon used the conspiracy to expose the dangers of political demagoguery and the precarious luxury that accompanied expanded credit. During the American Revolutionary period, Tories and Federalists branded as "Catilines" those who, like Daniel Shays, mobilized the forces of radical democracy with the promise of debt relief. Throughout the eighteenth century, Catiline represented the danger to a mixed constitution of demagogues who attempted to rally the democratic element in society against the privileges of the patrician class.

I bet you're hooked now! I began researching the article in the winter of 2006, when I was a visiting assistant professor of classics at Carleton College, and finished writing it in the early summer of 2006. It was provisionally accepted by the editor later in the summer, after we had moved to England, and underwent a lengthy peer-review and revision process (three rounds of peer-review, each followed by revisions). Thanks to the Dean of the College, I was able to publish the article with an academic affiliation (instead of as an independent scholar), since I am officially a research associate in classics at Carleton.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Brief History of Pain

Opium poppy (papaver somniferum)

This is the end of my fourth week of pain from a herniated disk in my neck. Physical therapy has improved my condition, and ibuprofen* has helped quite a bit with the pain. This whole experience has made me think with wonder and horror about the days before modern pain killers and anaesthesia. Pain must have been much more a persistent part of daily life in, for example, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1790, for instance, Thomas Jefferson hosted a famous dinner party for Hamilton and Madison while suffering from a month-long migraine headache. Acetylsalicylic acid wasn't synthesized until the 1850s, and didn't become commercially available as aspirin until the beginning of the twentieth century. In Jefferson's day, willow bark, which contains naturally-occurring salicylic acid, was sometimes used as an analgesic, but the most common painkiller was opium. Jefferson grew opium poppies (papaver somniferum) in his garden at Monticello, and evidently used it for pain in the last months of his life.

Opium was dangerously addictive. The horrors of addiction were described in the classic account by Thomas De Quincey, The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1822). It was a headache that initially drove De Quincey to take opium:

I awoke with excruciating rheumatic pains of the head and face, from which I had hardly any respite for about twenty days. On the twenty-first day I think it was, and on a Sunday, that I went out into the streets, rather to run away, if possible, from my torments, than with any distinct purpose. By accident I met a college acquaintance, who recommended opium. Opium! dread agent of unimaginable pleasure and pain!

Opium poppies were grown in the garden at Monticello until 1991, when they were removed because of concerns over growing a controlled substance. The photograph above, which I took last June, is of an opium poppy growing in the botanical garden in Oxford. It was at Oxford that De Quincey started taking opium. To come full circle: the pain killer initially prescribed for my pain was tramadol, which is a synthetic opiate.

*Note: In America, we can buy huge 500 tablet bottles of ibuprofen (Advil); in Britain, because of fears of suicide by overdose, ibuprofen (the brand name in Britain is Nurofen) is only available in 16 tablet packages. At one store, we were told that under a new law we could only buy two 16-tablet packages at a time.

Friday, February 15, 2008


I forgot to mention that Tuesday was the birthday of Charles Darwin. You still have a little time left to celebrate Darwin Days. Tuesday was also Lincoln's birthday. Two of the very greatest figures of the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, were born on exactly the same day: February 12, 1809.

Federalist Fridays: Federalist 1 and 2

The constitutional convention that met in Philadelphia during the hot summer of 1787 was composed primarily of men who favored a consolidation and strengthening of the federal government to replace the loose confederation of sovereign [1] and independent states existing under the Articles of Confederation. The case of New York was a little different. New York sent three delegates to the convention. Alexander Hamilton was one of the most ardent supporters of a strong central government, but the other two delegates, John Lansing and Robert Yates, had been chosen by the populist New York governor, George Clinton, as foils for Hamilton, because they were strong supporters of state sovereignty who would oppose a new Constitution.

After the Constitution was signed in September 1787 (only Hamilton from New York signed it), the document went to state conventions for ratification. Anticipating a hard-fought battle in New York’s convention, Hamilton enlisted James Madison of Virginia and John Jay of New York to help him write essays—newspaper editorials, essentially—closely arguing the case for the new Constitution. The supporters of the Constitution were called “federalists,” hence the title The Federalist Papers. Opponents were called “antifederalists,” and in New York they were led by the powerful governor, George Clinton, who didn’t want to see his personal power, or the power of his state, diminished, as he thought it would be under a strong central government.

In Federalist 1, Hamilton makes an appeal for moderation on both sides of the debate. He realizes that there were good men on both sides of the issue, as well as men driven by motives other than the good of their country: “Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives, not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as upon those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more illjudged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterised political parties.”[2]

The Federalists were, for the most part, men of property, education, and rank in society. Hamilton, though he came from a poor and obscure background, was a prosperous lawyer and the son-in-law of one of the most prominent men in New York, Philip Schuyler. Hamilton’s collaborator, John Jay, was also a lawyer (he became the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) and had married into the prominent Livingston family. The Schuylers and the Livingstons were the closest thing New York had to an aristocracy. The charge of elitism, and of promoting an actual aristocracy, haunted Hamilton throughout his career, and was frequently used against the Federalists in general.

Meanwhile, the Antifederalists (led in New York by Gov. Clinton) portrayed themselves as populists and true democrats. One of the important things that The Federalist reveals is a distrust on the part of Hamilton, and shared by other Federalists, of democracy. Hamilton believed that radical democracy, manipulated by a charismatic demagogue (he was thinking of Clinton), was more likely to result in tyranny than was a strong centralized government. He wrote: “[A] dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people, than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us, that the former has been found a much more certain road to despotism, than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics the greatest number have begun their carreer [sic], by paying an obsequious court to the the people, commencing Demagogues and ending Tyrants.” This is important to understand about Hamilton and the Federalists who largely governed the country for the first quarter century or so after its founding: they opposed pure democracy, believing that the common people could be too easily manipulated by ambitious demagogues. What the country needed, the Federalists believed, were enlightened leaders of class and property with the wisdom and gravitas to guide the unruly populace. [3]

Jay’s first contribution to The Federalist, no. 2, argues that the states are already, geographically and culturally, one nation composed of one people, and that a more centrally-governed Union, as opposed to a loose confederation of states, is the only reasonable form of government under the circumstances. The long-term security and prosperity of the country depends upon it. Here at the founding, in the opposition between Federalists and Antifederalists, one sees that opposition between strong unionists and supporters of states’ rights that was to come to a head in the Civil War. [4] In great measure because of the Civil War, we think of the United States as a single entity—a Union—rather than a collection of states. But for most of the nineteenth century, the concept of Union was still evolving, and has its first great expression here in The Federalist.


[1] George W. Bush defines sovereignty (in the context of Indian tribal sovereignty): "Tribal sovereignty means that; it's sovereign. I mean, you're a — you've been given sovereignty, and you're viewed as a sovereign entity. And therefore the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities.”

[2] Hamilton, like most of the Founders, was well-read in the classics, and here there may be an echo of Caesar’s speech in Sallust’s Catiline, as the Roman Senate deliberates about how to punish conspirators against the Roman state: “It becomes all men, Conscript Fathers, who deliberate on dubious matters, to be influenced neither by hatred, affection, anger, nor pity. The mind, when such feelings obstruct its view, cannot easily see what is right; nor has any human being consulted, at the same moment, his passions and his interest. When the mind is freely exerted, its reasoning is sound; but passion, if it gain possession of it, becomes its tyrant, and reason is powerless (51).”

[3] The story of the development of a more democratic political culture, most closely associated with the names Jefferson and Jackson, is well told by Sean Wilentz in his book The Rise of American Democracy (Norton 2005; 796 pp.). The influence of more democratic elements on the Constitutional Convention itself is explored in Woody Holton’s recent book, Unruly Americans, which was recently nominated for a National Book Award (and is available in hardcover at River City Books in Northfield).

[4] I’m concurrently reading a fascinating study of the opposing concepts of states’ rights and union in the first century of the history of the United States: Forrest McDonald, States’ Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, 1776-1876 (University of Kansas Press 2000). Imperium in imperio is Latin for divided sovereignty, the idea that sovereignty can reside in both the federal government and in the states.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My First Poem

I wrote this in fifth grade, after I read Jack London's story "To Build a Fire." It's a poetic rewriting of the story, leaving out the crucial gross part. A couple of years later, when I was in seventh grade, my Mom signed me up for a writer's workshop one Saturday morning down at the Women's Community Center in Ithaca (New York). The other poets were, of course, middle-aged women. We sat in a circle and shared our poems. Some of the women read lesbian love poetry, comparing their lovers to the sea and themselves to the shore. I, a little red-headed twelve-year old, read my "To Build a Fire" poem. The women graciously gave me a standing ovation. I was on my way to becoming a poet!

"To Build a Fire"

Cold and dreary, weak and weary
I roam the frozen North,
To and fro the wind does blow
As slowly I trudge forth.
Day and night, I try to light
A warm and blazing fire:
It goes out, in vain I shout,
And then I start to tire.
It’s eighty below and the freezing snow
Is drifting all around me.
Without a sound, I fall to the ground:
Death has finally found me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Federalist Challenge

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay: the authors of The Federalist.

Some bloggers have blogs that focus primarily, sometimes exclusively, on their reading. Many reading bloggers also participate in reading challenges, which challenge participants to read a certain number of books in a fixed amount of time. The challenges are usually organized around a theme, such as John Mutford's Canadian Book Challenge, which challenges participants to read 13 books by Canadian authors by Canada Day 2008 (July 1). Why thirteen books? Because there are 13 Canadian provinces. There's also a Nineteenth Century Women Authors Challenge, an Outmoded Authors Challenge, an Expanding Horizons Challenge—basically, there's a reading challenge for everyone.

Here's my reading challenge. It's a personal challenge, but you're welcome to join in if, for some unearthly reason, the idea appeals to you. My challenge is to spend the rest of 2008 reading The Federalist, that great and enduring defense of the United States Constitution co-written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. There are 85 Federalist papers, which means I only have to read about two a week to complete the challenge. I'll learn from Madison why Montesquieu was wrong about republics only being a viable option for small territories (#10). I'll read Hamilton's famous treatise on impeachment (#65). And much, much more. Sound like fun? Pick up your own copy of the Federalist and join the challenge! What better way to spend an election year.

I'm currently reading from my old copy of The Federalist edited by Jacob E. Cooke (Wesleyan University Press, 1961). I plan to order a second reading copy from the Liberty Fund, an edition which also includes appendices with various ancillary documents, including the Constitution itself (cross-referenced with relevant discussions in The Federalist).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mark Twain in Motion

One of the things always mentioned in descriptions of Mark Twain, along with his slow Missouri drawl, was his "rocking and rolling gait." The way he walked was a distinctive part of his persona, but it's something nearly impossible to recover. But here is a tantalizing glimpse of Mark Twain in action, captured on film by Thomas Edison in 1909, the last year of Twain's life. In the first half of the short film, Twain is walking around his home in Redding, Connecticut, which he named Stormfield. The house, in the Tuscan style, was designed for him by the architect John Mead Howells, the son of Twain's closest friend in the literary world, novelist and critic William Dean Howells. Twain moved into Stormfield (originally called "Innocence at Home") in June 1908. In the second half of the film, Twain is playing cards and drinking tea on the loggia with his two surviving daughters, Clara (center) and Jean (right). Jean was epileptic, and died (from an apparent seizure while in the bath) on Christmas Eve, 1909. Clara Clemens, who died in 1962, was the only one of his three daughters to outlive him. Stormfield itself burned to the ground in 1923.

Video: Mark Twain at Stormfield, 1909, filmed by Thomas Edison.

Edited: The embedded video wasn't working properly, so click one of the links above to see the video.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Alumni Magazine Blues

Do you ever find yourself getting a little depressed when your alma mater's alumni magazine arrives in the mail? Do you ever open it up and read about your classmates' accomplishments and wonder what you've done with your life?

The latest Brown Alumni Magazine. On the cover is Alicia Sacramone, '10, one of the top-ranked gymnasts in the world, and a favorite for a medal in Beijing.

The Brown Alumni Magazine arrived today. Inside there was a little review of the latest film starring the talented and lovely Laura Linney (Class of 1986). I never crossed paths with Laura Linney at Brown; I didn't arrive as a graduate student until the fall of 1986, after she had graduated. I did briefly live next door to Amy Carter, and one day as I was hurrying to class in the art building I turned a corner and crashed into Geraldine Ferarro's daughter. But I'm getting off the subject. The point is that Laura Linney (born Feb. 5, 1964; nine months older than me) has three Oscar nominations. What have I done?

Maybe I'm just feeling sorry for myself because for the past three weeks I've done nothing but manage my pain, gain weight, and mope around the house in my pajamas. I suppose that, in the long run, I've done quite a lot. But look at what some of my classmates at Oberlin (Class of 1986) have done: Willa Henigman, who worked with me in the college library, is Associate Principal Oboe with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra; Lia Purpura is an award-winning poet and winner of an NEH Fellowship for her essays; and Leah Modigliani is a top-ranking executive at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.

One of my classmates at Oberlin contributed her expertise to the book The Complete Idiot's Guide to College Survival. In the book, Stephanie gives advice on surviving the treacherous college social scene. One of her pieces of advice is about what to do if you're dating someone who lives in your dorm and you end up breaking up with him. Sometimes, as she did, you may decide it's best for one of you to move to a different dorm.

So, I've accomplished something after all. I was the ex who prompted Stephanie to move to a different dorm.

The Grammys

No, I didn't watch the Grammys last night. Are you kidding? I can't imagine anything more boring than a televised awards show. Last night, we had a choice between the first part of the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice on Masterpiece Theater, our Netflix DVD of Hairspray, or a pair of season six episodes of Buffy. The boys cast the deciding vote, and we watched Buffy.

This morning, I glanced at the Grammy winners list. The only thing on the entire list that I'd heard is the Plain White T's song "Hey There Delilah." (There used to be a YouTube video of Will singing it on the school radio station in Kenilworth.) The song lost in the Song of the Year category. Otherwise, it was as if the entire year in music had passed me by. Springsteen won in a couple of categories, but the last Springsteen album I bought was Tunnel of Love back in 1987. Steve Earle won for Best Contemporary Folk album, but the last Steve Earle CD I bought was Jerusalem back in 2002.

The only Grammy-winning album I could see myself buying is Jim Lauderdale's The Bluegrass Diaries, which won for Best Bluegrass album. A few years ago, Ralph Stanley came out with a 2-disc set of bluegrass duets with the likes of Bob Dylan, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Porter Wagoner, and other country and bluegrass luminaries. For me, the highlight was "If I Lose," a duet with Jim Lauderdale. I liked the man's twang, and I'd probably listen to his Grammy-winning CD from time to time when that old timey mood hits me. That's one of my little secrets: I love bluegrass. Blame Alison Krauss.

When the boys were little, I used to listen to Alison Krauss all the time. Somewhere, there's a video of little Will and Peter dancing to an Alison Krauss song; not so much dancing as spinning, one of them clockwise, the other counterclockwise. And for some reason, it's become a tradition to put on the Alison Krauss song "New Fool" as we drive through Marinette and Menominee every summer. Finally, Alison Krauss and Union Station is the only band I've seen live since college: I've seen them twice at the Minnesota Zoo, which is a surprisingly good place to attend a concert.

Meanwhile, here's the latest by a potential Grammy winner of the future!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Acts of the Apostles

“Ladies and gentlemen, circumcised and uncircumcised…”
Peter warmed up the crowd with tongues of flame, told jokes,
performed a few small miracles—though the hecklers in the crowd
kept demanding resurrections. Backstage, Paul was getting loose,
juggling his rubber balls—first three, then four, then five at once
(one ball was Faith and another, Love): and if he dropped a ball,
it bounced, and he knew how to make it seem intentional.
Harder still were the knives: he had to make it appear graceful,
the steel blades flashing, the fine-honed edge of redemption.
But nothing in his act was harder than juggling the spirit and the law—
he couldn’t do it like Jesus did, making everything seem
equally light. A scattering of applause, and Peter stepped off stage
wiping the sweat from his brow. “It’s a tough crowd,” he said,
as Stephen stepped out to deliver his dramatic monologue.
It wasn’t long before the boos and the beer bottles thrown on stage.
Paul was trying to remember the one about the two Corinthians
who walk into a bar—and what was the one Jesus always told
about love? It was so simple, but he was famous for that.
And he had that knack for holding an audience in the palm of his hand.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Song of the Day

The Police, "King of Pain"


I'm so bored with this herniated disk problem. I'm bored with the pain, I'm bored with the treatment, I'm bored with lying around in my pajamas, I'm bored with the boring blog posts that have resulted from my extended convalescence. Last night, I was in too much pain to join Clara for dinner with a pair of Carleton trustees, so I stayed home and, in the depths of my boredom, watched television. I watched a show called Bones for the sole reason that it starred David Boreanaz; I watched House; I watched an unspeakably awful show called Numb3rs.

Numb3rs appears to be about a college math professor who helps his FBI agent brother solve murders. The murders (committed by a numerology-obsessed serial killer/tattoo artist who thought he was Jesus) were gruesome, but the worst thing about the show was the depiction of college professors. Hollywood college professors are all incredibly good-looking, like Andrea Roth (left), who played a professor of numerology (!) on last night's show (in a short skirt and lots of cleavage). Hollywood professors talk like textbooks and seldom say anything, even in casual conversation, that isn't related to their field. Hollywood professors have only to stand up in front of a large lecture class and spout the worst nonsense ever devised by Dan Brown to be considered brilliant and inspirational teachers. In The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon stands in front of his class at Harvard (where he's a professor of "religious symbology") and lectures in his rich baritone voice ("like chocolate for the ears") about Phi, and all the girls "beam at him." Dan Brown writes: "Even in the darkness, Langdon could see they were all astounded. He felt a familiar warmth inside. This is why he taught." I feel a familiar gag reflex inside.

On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the professors at UC Sunnydale share another personality trait: they're all mean. Several of them kick Buffy out of class, or single her out for ridicule in front of her classmates. The worst of the lot, Dr. Maggie Walsh, is not only mean, but she's assembling a demon in her private lab.

When Clara got home from her dinner with the college trustees, she quickly changed into a miniskirt so she could use her knowledge of Greek and Latin to help the FBI catch a serial killer. Such is the life of a college professor.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Happy Birthday Sinclair Lewis

Today is also the birthday of Sinclair Lewis, born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, in 1885. Lewis is known for his novels Main Street, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry and It Can't Happen Here, and was America's first Nobel Prize winner in literature. He was recommended for the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Main Street, but the trustees of the prize awarded it to Edith Wharton for The Age of Innocence instead. A few years later, Lewis turned down the Pulitzer for his novel Arrowsmith. I visited Sauk Centre a few years ago. I had a peak at Lewis's boyhood home, had a beer at the Palmer House Hotel (where Lewis was fired from his first job), and stayed in the Gopher Prairie Motel. An account of that visit went into my essay "Sinclair Lewis's Work of Art," published in the New England Review in 2004 (volume 25, number 3). For an excellent biography of Sinclair Lewis, check out Richard Lingeman's Sinclair Lewis: Rebel from Main Street.

Happy Year of the Rat

On Tuesday, my first session of traction left me feeling well enough to dip into the 50 lb. bag of flour which has sat unopened in the kitchen since the middle of January. I was able, with relatively little pain, to mix and knead dough for broccoli sfinciuni, which has long been one of my vegetarian son's favorite meals. Sfinciuni is essentially a double-crust pizza, stuffed, in this case, with broccoli and ricotta cheese. The broccoli is steamed first, then sautéed in olive oil with a little garlic. For a little added flavor, I kneaded garlic and oregano into the dough, and sprinkled grated parmesan and kosher salt over the top crust before putting the sfinciuni into the oven. For those of you keeping track at home, that 50 lb. bag has now made the equivalent of two pizza crusts (about four cups of flour).

Who knows when I'll be able to bake again. I had an excellent night's sleep on Tuesday night, but I came back from my second session of traction yesterday with a complete return of the pain and general discomfort. Last night I managed about two and a half hours of uninterrupted sleep. This is quite discouraging.

Meanwhile, Happy Chinese New Year! According to Chinese reckoning, today is the first day of the year 4706, and the beginning of the Year of the Rat. I'm hoping I'll feel well enough this afternoon to get the wok out of the cupboard and put together a good stir fry to celebrate.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Caucus Recap

Last night's caucus was unbelievable. Clara and I headed out to the Northfield Middle School at about 6:25, and hit bumper-to-bumper traffic about half a mile before we reached the school. Instead of continuing on to the middle school parking lot, we turned off early and parked in the still-empty lot at the nearby elementary school. By the time we returned to the car 45 minutes later, that lot was entirely full, too. We walked the rest of the way to the middle school, passing dozens of cars as they crawled along the road. When we arrived at the school, we stood in line for more than half an hour before we reached the sign-in table and received our ballots. According the Minnesota secretary of state's caucus results website, 3,102 votes were cast at our caucus location last night. Of those votes, 2,201 were for Obama, and 870 were for Clinton. In our precinct, which includes Carleton College, Obama captured nearly 85% of the vote. College students, availing themselves of a free shuttle service to the caucus from the center of campus, came out in force for Obama. I hope that if Hillary Clinton ends up as the Democratic nominee, these young Obama voters will still feel motivated to turn out and vote for the Democratic ticket.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Caucus Day

Today is Super Tuesday, and Minnesota is one of the states where Democrats will allocate national delegates based upon this evening's voting. Minnesota has a caucus system, although it is possible to show up, submit a Presidential preference ballot, and then go home. In my condition, that's what I may do. The rest of the evening is usually spent in discussing resolutions to be submitted to the state party convention, and in choosing delegates to the county convention.

As a warm-up for tonight's caucuses, the Carleton College Democrats hosted a rally at Sayles-Hill campus center, featuring a special appearance by Scarlett Johansson. She spoke for 5-10 minutes, then took questions. The first question was: "What did Bill Murray whisper to you at the end of the movie?" She said, "He told me to vote for Obama." She didn't give a polished presentation, but seemed to be speaking sincerely and passionately about a candidate who has captured her imagination. Note: Doug Bratland has a good set of photographs of the event on Flickr. See also the story on, which includes a video clip.

I'll be casting my vote for Obama at the local Democratic caucus tonight. I think America needs the kind of inspirational leadership he offers. I believe he has integrity and intelligence, and trust he will have the wisdom to surround himself with good people. I'm not swayed by the argument that he lacks experience. Both Lincoln and Kennedy had very little national political experience when they became President, but they each offered inspirational leadership which helped to define an era in American politics. It's time for something new.

Other local blogs for Obama:
Sustainable Community Solutions (Bruce Anderson)
Mama in Wonderland (Shannon Hyland-Tassava)

Physical Therapy

Cervical traction, similar to the treatment I received this morning.

I began physical therapy this morning with Ann at Northfield's Center for Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. The bulk of the appointment was taken up with fifteen minutes of cervical traction, in an attempt to relieve pressure on the pinched nerve in my neck. This is the best I've felt in more than two weeks, so I'm cautiously optimistic. I have five more appointments scheduled between now and next Friday. Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Professor TiVo

Today's Rutland (Vermont) Herald features an excellent profile of my brother-in-law Jason, a newly-tenured assistant professor of American Studies and Film and Media Culture at Middlebury College. Jason is my sister Ruth's husband. He has what his nephews Will and Peter consider the coolest job on the planet: the academic study of television and video games. He's perhaps the world's foremost expert on Dragnet, and has written extensively on Lost, The Wire, The Simpsons, and other shows. If you're interested in television and American culture, you'll be interested in what Jason has to say.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Rerun: Candlemas (February 2)

The snowdrop, in purest white arraie,
First rears her hedde on Candlemas daie.

(ca. 1500)

In the Christian calendar, Candlemas is the festival of the Purification of Mary and commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It was also traditionally the day on which the church candles for the year were blessed. The day also coincides with the beginning of the lambing season, marked by a pagan festival known as Imbolc, and Groundhog's Day. The original European superstition was that fair weather on Candlemas meant another forty days of winter.

In England, Candlemas is also the season of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), which are sometimes known as Candlemas bells. The snowdrops pictured here were blooming near the Inchford Brook ford, southwest of Kenilworth, at the end of last January. Snowdrops appear to be garden escapees in England; they were often planted in monastery gardens, and evidently are still found on the sites of ruined monasteries. Snowdrops, incidentally, are believed by some medical historians to be the herb moly mentioned in Homer's Odyssey as the antidote to Circe's magic. The bulb of the snowdrop contains a compound known as galanthamine, which is now marketed as a drug to treat Alzheimer's disease.

Friday, February 1, 2008


AAA BATTERIES: Bought a 4 pack of AA batteries, realized I need AAA! Want to trade? sanzonek.

ARCHNEMESIS wanted for amusement through enmity. Be at odds, match wits, plot my downfall! Hero-villain roles flexible. Hatred strictly professional. Apply: christja

From the NNB (Noon News Bulletin) at Carleton College, Thursday, January 31, 2008.

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .